The white stuff and the right stuff in France

Fab food, hot tub, sauna and snow. What other treats can a ski bunny want?

By Lucy Tobin, October 7, 2010
The slopes around Morzine, nestling in the French Alps, and part of the Portes du Soleil resort, which straddles France and Switzerland

The slopes around Morzine, nestling in the French Alps, and part of the Portes du Soleil resort, which straddles France and Switzerland

The first - and last - time I went skiing was when I was 14. It was a school trip to Alpe D'huez in France, and the teachers told our parents that since we might not enjoy the feeling of hurling down a white mountain in freezing temperatures, it wasn't worth spending hundreds on kit - better to borrow.

So I spent the week in a borrowed all-in-one in bright yellow, purple and brown, and completely a relic from the 1980s.

Despite that, I loved skiing. The freedom, the fresh air, the fondues, the in-built exercise. When I returned to damp London, I couldn't wait to get back to the slopes. But for some reason, it took me 10 years.

This time round, it was just my boyfriend, Howard, and I planning to ski. As we trawled endless websites comparing snow reports, transport options and lift pass prices, I began - very belatedly - to appreciate the organisational skills of my school teachers.

Normally we love to travel independently, picking the best time, reading endless hotel reviews, then using the web to identify the cheapest deals. But this time it didn't seem so easy. We had picked France for our skiing destination on the basis of good food, short journey and plentiful snow, but beyond that, the resorts seemed hard to compare.

Getting there

Lucy Tobin travelled with VIP SKI (0844 557 3119; which offers 7 nights at Chalet du Bois, Morzine (sleeps 12-14) from £799 per person on a catered chalet basis including return flights and transfers. Book before October 31 and save £100 per person.

After a couple of fruitless hours online, trying to find decent accommodation whilst totting up the budget airlines' luggage fees and working out the safest way to journey from airport to Alps, we surrendered: this holiday would have to be done the package way.

We were recommended to VIP SKI, a British firm which specialises in catered ski chalets across France, mainly in Val d'Isere, Alpe d'Huez, Méribel, and Morzine. It was the last resort, just an hour from Geneva but firmly on the French side of the border, that most took our fancy. We booked. All that was left to do was go shopping for snow gear - the 80s-inspired bruised-banana look was definitely not to be repeated.

A few weeks later we were on a 90-minute British Airways charter flight, ogling our fellow VIP SKI passengers to decide who we'd like (and not like) to be in our chalet. It wasn't long till we found out. Upon landing at Geneva, we were quickly organised onto various coaches to the resorts, supplied with Kit-Kats and Evian and driven the 90 minutes to Morzine along the kind of winding alpine roads that made us glad we weren't finding our bearings in a rental car.

Once in Morzine, we joined our 10 fellow guests at Chalet du Bois, situated within easy distance of the town as well as the slopes. Inside our chalet the decor was all Alpine wood and cosy rugs. There was also a much-welcomed dash of modernity in the wi fi, huge TV, tiny basement sauna, ski-boot warmers - really useful, since you could ski right up the door: bliss - and lovely outdoor hot tub.

Our bedroom was tiny, but clean and warm with a brand-new en-suite bathroom and plenty of storage space for our zillion thermals and all those bulky salopettes and quilted jackets.

Thankfully, our fellow guests - who included an army sergeant, a nurse, a builder and an accountant - were friendly and interesting.

Oh – and once we'd finished exploring the chalet, the town and getting to know our new neighbours, we actually got around to doing some skiing.

Morzine itself is a real market town, with boucheries and boulangeries, fromageries and supermarkets as well as scores of ski hire stores. It is part of the Portes du Soleil resort, which straddles France and Switzerland, linking 12 villages with almost 200 lifts and 650km of piste. You can buy a ski pass covering just Morzine-Les Gets, or upgrade to one covering the whole Portes du Soleil, which also covers Avoriaz, Les Gets and other less famous resorts. We went for the latter: with Howard an intermediate skier and me not very sure of my level, it seemed like a good idea to have access to a wide variety of slopes.

Once out and about, we tended to stay on blue runs, which ranged from easy woodland passages to steep, narrow slopes that challenged even the experienced skiers. There were plenty of moguls and steep blacks, and tough red runs, too.

The snowboarders in our chalet assured me that the resort offered plenty of variety. Avoriaz, a 10-minute direct-lift ride from Morzine's centre, has a large freestyle boarding park with music, jumps, rails and pipes that we enjoyed watching from the lift.

The pistes were well maintained, and regularly packed, but luckily not when we were there. It was mid February, the week before half-term, and some parts of the resort were absolutely empty. That, of course, sent me into a new flurry of worry: if a skier falls down an empty mountain, does anyone hear them?

Thankfully, we both mainly remained upright and managed to improve, in part due to a couple of individual lessons with Ecole du Ski Français. The teaching quality was mixed, but the prices weren't too high, starting at €35 - around £30 - for an hour's one-to-one lesson.

We skied all day, for six days, breaking only for a quick lunch. The curse of the weak pound made slope-side eateries horrifically expensive - a portion of chips cost €7 - which now converts to a punishing £6.02.

The best lunches came from the restaurants in the Portes du Soleil towns themselves - L'Optraken in Les Gets had great pizza, whilst in Morzine an array of bakeries offered fresh, well-filled baguettes. Then it was back to the slopes until they closed at around 5, when we returned to freshly-baked cakes and tea and relaxing sauna time in the basement of our chalet.

Every evening we would meet in the lounge with our fellow chalet guests for the inevitable debrief on the day's slope action. And we were all impressed by the nightly four-course dinner, home-made and served by VIP SKI's very professional and friendly chalet hosts Matt and Emma, who also cleaned the house daily.

Their dishes ranged from roast duck to nut roast, and dinner always included good French wine. The detailed lists of food likes and dislikes that we'd completed as part of the booking form were fully observed too, meaning there is no problem for those preferring kosher-friendly options such as fish and vegetarian dishes.

Most nights, we ate dinner surrounded by drifts of snow falling outside the window, since the white stuff came down every evening.

The chalet hosts had one night off - Wednesday, the same as most chalets in the area so remember to book well in advance if you plan to go out for dinner.

We particularly enjoyed La Dez'Alp, a small Savoyard restaurant serving traditional alpine dishes, where we shared a tasty cheese fondue followed by crepes - yet another joy of skiing: you can put away all those calories and not put on a pound.

Other popular non-touristy haunts were La Grange, also specialising in Savoyard food, and L'Etale for pizzas - both in the centre of Morzine.

Later in the evening, the entertainment is limited to themed bars and cheesy, student-style clubs. Still, by French ski resort standards, it was buzzing. The Buddha bar was particularly popular, and the Coyote bar, which was filled with braying British teenagers, was also busy. The DJ there was pretty good, but not good enough to detain us too long - we wanted to make fresh tracks on the slopes early the next morning.

If you're planning on skiing late in the season, it is worth making a detailed check of the snow forecasts because, at 1,000m, Morzine is a relatively low-lying resort. Still, buying the Portes du Soleil ski pass means you can chase the best of the snow whatever the time of year.

And what a place to do it. I'd book with VIP SKI again unhesitatingly: when one of our chalet group broke his leg, their organisational know-how was truly impressive.

From the breathtaking Alpine views to the hot tub soaks, I've certainly caught the skiing bug. So watch out, slopes: I definitely won't be leaving it another 10 years till I return.

Last updated: 5:34pm, October 11 2010